‘Dark Was the Night’ (2014) Review

“It’s the devil.”

Full disclosure: this is an older review I’m re-posting. I’m on my fourth migraine of the week – I blame the weather – and just didn’t have the spoons or mental acuity to do a new review. (I know what you’re thinking, ‘how is that different from normal?’) The movie mostly takes place during winter and there are some scenes in the snow, so that’s what’s passing as my “holiday adjacent” excuse. Hopefully back to normal next week! Normal-ish, anyway.

This movie is very blue. I mean the color palette, though the tone is pretty melancholy as well. I feel like I’ve seen a few horror movies recently that have played with monochromatic color schemes, but I can’t for the life of me remember any at the moment. It works for this film, though. Everything is washed out and cold – really cold. (There are other colors – including a lot of interiors that are a washed out yellow/green – but blue is really the major tone.)

Dark Was the Night was recommended to me last year and would have sworn I’d seen it already. The initial scenes at the logging camp, in particular, felt familiar. If so, I’ve forgotten a fair chunk of it and was happy to find out it was a monster movie. I feel like those have been under-represented lately and I kinda miss ’em. More monster movies, please!

The Medium
(Updated for 2021) Dark Was the Night is available for subs on Prime, Hoopla and Hulu and for free (with ads) on Tubi and Plex. It can also be rented or purchased at a number of online vendors.

There’s a Blu-ray release of the film from RLJ Entertainment in 2015. I hear it looks pretty good, but there are only a few extras to be had.

The Movie
In an isolated forest a group of loggers goes missing. The foreman heads up to the cut looking for them, but unfortunately it’s not his men that he finds. Well… not all of them, anyway.

Meanwhile, 90 miles to the south, in the small town of Maiden Woods the local sheriff, Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his new deputy, Donny Suanders (Lucas Haas) head to a local farmer’s to investigate a report of a stolen horse – though without any tracks or other evidence there’s not much they can do. It’s not the last we’ll hear about the horses.

I always like Durand – hell, he’s the best part of The Strain – and he’s really good in this role. Paul is dealing with a loss – his youngest child in an accident while in his care. In some ways he’s barely holding on. He’s damaged and distant – both mourning and unable to mourn at the same time. He’s doing the best he can, though – taking care of his oldest son, helping Donny fit in, trying to keep the town calm in an increasingly weird situation. I like the way the filmmakers use silence and the frame to give us a sense of Paul’s emotional state.  There are lots of scenes of him alone, isolated in a dark space or merely staring at nothing, motionless.

The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Lucas Haas as Donny doing a good job with the big city cop carrying some secrets of his own. Bianca Kajlich is also quite good as Paul’s estranged wife, Susan.

The next day Donny shows up early at Paul’s house and shows him a set of large tracks around the property – left by something with feet like horses hooves, but walking on two legs. The two of them follow the tracks, out into the road and eventually into town.

This is my favorite part of the movie, by the way. The way the footsteps – all black – wander through the streets and backyards reminds me of stories about ‘the devil’s footprints’ in Devon, England in 1855. (We’ve got our own ‘devil’s footprint’ in Maine as well – but it’s not quite as cool.) Paul and Donny follow the tracks into the woods, where they just stop – as if whatever made them had just disappeared.

This is all pretty garden variety monster movie stuff – and really, that’s what Dark Was the Night IS. A good, old-fashioned monster movie. SomeTHING is out in the woods and as the movie progresses more and more weird things occur. Hunters say all the game is gone. The horses are attacked again at night. Paul and his son Adam catch a fleeting glimpse of something in the dark near their house. Then  a huge flock of birds flies over the town, fleeing south, darkening the sky. We even get the required “what is it, anyway” discussion in which the coelacanth is brought up as an example of creatures thought extinct being found in modern day. Classic!

One small nitpick, though – after the birds, Paul mentions to Donny that “it’s nearer to Spring than Fall”  – but just a day or so earlier a character was talking about how it was deer season. I’m not sure where the film takes place – New York, I think – but in Maine deer season IS the fall. And no birds would be heading north.

As much of a monster movie as it is, it’s the characters and production that put it above a standard B movie. You care about the characters, you want them to not only survive but find some sort of closure or redemption. As has recently been pointed out in the Horror Good Stuff thread – really good horror is scary because you care. And DWtN manages this aspect exceptionally well.

Where the movie IS let down, however, is in the same place so many creature features are these days. After an hour or so of tracks and glimpses and shaky video footage we finally get to see the big bad thing that has been terrorizing the town. And it’s CGI. Bad CGI. I’ll forgive a lot with practical effects, even stop motion (shoutout to Q, the Winged Serpent), but there’s just something about poorly done computer graphics that rankles. And for a monster movie to have a poorly done monster… well, it’s not good news.

On the plus side, this final scene wasn’t blue.

The movie has a big siege sequence during a snowstorm, a tense and fairly well done fight in the dark in the town church and a bit of an unearned stinger ending, but to be honest the crap monster really took all the wind out of what – up until that point – was a good monster movie with an above average cast and direction.

The Bottom Line
I really like Dark Was the Night, for the most part. The story might be a standard one, but it’s told well and the dialogue and characters are particularly well handled. I like the music, the editing, the cinematography. It’s just too bad that the final moments involve a crap monster. It left me with a bad mental aftertaste that retroactively affects the whole film.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.